It’s Swans & Doggies For Me!

Swans win because they are more consistent, play more instinctively as a team and their effort is unconditional. I still have questions over Mackie’s desperation at times. Enright’s selectivity this year and their dependence on Hawkins to fire. On the other hand the Swans are relentless, hard and tough around the contest, perhaps lack the flair and instinct of the Cats but more than make up for it with raw courage and conviction. 

Aliir is an absolute beauty who belies his experience and seems to have the composure of a 150 game veteran. His decision-making in traffic is sublime as is his skill execution. He reads the play like he wrote the book and has the uncanny ability to leave his opponent on the death knock to go third man up and assist contested marking situations. I’m an Aliir believer.

Heeney doesn’t worry about the pressure in games and just lights it up when he is needed. Love watching this young guy. His attack on the footy and elite ability to win one on one contests give his team mates the confidence to just kick long to him one out. Game-breaker.

Similarly Mr Reliable, Dane Rampe is one tough unit. He’s an animal. Tough, relentless, never beaten. 

The only concern I have with the Swans is their selection and potential for unfit players not being able to contribute to the required standard. Kurt Tippett with his jaw problems and Gary Rohan with his bruised knee.

If Rohan is near his best look out. I speculated some time ago he is a massive finals factor. He is the type of player that is unmatchable on MCG during the pressure of a final. Speed, leap, agility, competitiveness are all X-factor attributes that make him an opposition coaches nightmare.

Aliir, Heeney and Rohan are the players I love to watch most and feel they will be the decider of the result. All that great talent and we haven’t even mentioned Hannebery, Kennedy, Parker, Jack or Buddy (who incidentally I think will be well held tonight).

The mighty Western Bulldogs will throttle the Giants tomorrow in a David and Goliath tussle that will be very close. The Giants are clearly the Goliath with their vast array of first round draft talent (23 to be precise) – plus another 3 coming this year. It is inconceivable (frankly obscene) that in a COMPETITION, the governing or administering body can provide such a “leg-up” to a newly formed team. It defies the logic of the whole competition concept and meaning and in my mind utterly devalues the principles of a competition and by extension the premiership. But that’s another story.

Luke Beveridge is an absolute master coach. The best I’ve seen since Denis Pagan in my view. His ability to manage, interact, motivate, direct and lead is ultra impressive. He has the uncanny ability to say the right thing at the right time, he has deep affection for his players and he knows what is required to prepare a team for a highly contested and pressurised event. 

I picked the Bulldogs for the premiership in June and I’m not backing off one bit. This is the game they must win of course to participate and if they do – look out!

Bontempelli – enough said……………

The guy is an absolute gun with a very controlled and mature head on his shoulders (more of the Beveridge influence). Johannisen will be the star tomorrow night against the Giants. Boyd and Morris will hold the defence adequately together and we are all hoping Stringer lets himself “slip” and throws caution to the wind with his attack on the contest. Dahlhaus is the most underrated inside, competitor in AFL ranks and won’t die wondering about the result.

One must have great respect for the Giants as the talent in their team is off the charts. They have an arrogance that is nurtured and advocated in the remote AFL domiciled district of Greater West Sydney but we are talking Preliminary finals now and the Bulldogs don’t get intimidated.

They hit the contest very hard, they pull the trigger with disposal – especially handball – and have the valued commodity of being prepared to lose to win. Don’t underestimate that factor. Many sides are not prepared to risk failure for success or a mistake for an opportunity. This is the fundamental that finals are built on,  especially the most difficult one to win – The Preliminary Final.

Steve Johnson Guilty or Innocent?

Now that the dust has settled and the raw emotion has been taken out of the situation my view is Steve Johnson should be playing in the preliminary final and not missing it.

At the stoppage Kennedy clearly looks at Johnson prior to the ball up and is aware of his presence to a point that it could be construed he is going to block his pathway to the contest. 

Johnson doesn’t look at Kennedy, is clearly focussed on the contest and driving through the middle of the stoppage at pace to win a clearance – something he is renowned for.

At a critical juncture the ball is tapped back over Kennedy’s head as he instinctively raises his hand to grab the ball and nearly connects with it. This significantly warrants Johnson to change direction sharply to follow its flight and engage the ball. It is at this point that Kennedy is standing prone in his line of pursuit to the ball.

In my mind there is no alternative for Johnson to avoid contact with Kennedy if he is legitimately attempting to win the ball as Kennedy is directly in his line of following the tapped ball away from the congested stoppage. 

Johnson could have tried to stop, spun away from Kennedy or not braced for contact. I don’t believe any of these courses of action would be naturally expected. The one corollary with this is the fact that players in congested situations no longer expect contact when they are not in possession or about to take possession of the ball. Players – on the back of recent AFL rule changes – have been provided with a much safer work place and the threat of physical harm has been significantly diminished. The net effect of these new safety guidelines is players are not protecting themselves and in many cases are not even aware of potential clashes or physical contests because of their confidence in the rules to protect them.

Whether it be tackling or bumps (when we are lucky enough to see one of these beautiful executed but now relatively extinct aspects of the game), players can add to the trauma by not bracing or being aware of the potential danger because rules have been put in place to protect them from head high physical clashes. This gives an unnecessary and overbearing sense of confidence in most hotly contested situations but when a clash inevitably happens players are more susceptible to injury because of their lack of awareness and lack of protection on the back of these rules. 

Whilst Kennedy has his eye on Johnson initially and knows he is probably going to run straight through the action he is completely unprotected and utterly unaware of the potential danger. Like in boxing players should be instructed to protect themselves at all times and in fact taught to expect contact as players were taught for a hundred years.

This situation leads into my concerns around the intimidation, danger and fear within a game of footy which the AFL has seen fit to minimise and be the social conscience for society. I am of the view that it is a gladiators game. It should be dangerous. You must be able to overcome fear. Intimidation is a valuable asset in sport. Fans love to see it in action and more so love to see how opponents react. 

It must be highlighted that I am not in any way condoning elbows, punches, kicks or thuggery.

My point is simple; expect contact, brace yourself and protect your head at all times otherwise the whiplash affect of a well executed bump may result in some head trauma. I am a strong advocate for minimising danger at every level outside AFL (Junior, VFL, Country, Metropolitan etc).

The AFL may believe they are being responsible citizens to society but they are ripping the very heart out of the very best game in the world.

Uphold Competition Respect

When money wasn’t a factor, when brand didn’t matter, when people respected ALL sports and didn’t fear their existence, when all everyone was interested in was seeing who was the very best – football reigned supreme. 

Sure there were financial problems and of course some clubs struggled to keep pace but there was a constant that kept driving everyone involved, administrators, players and fans alike – it was the competition. 

Who is the best team on field & off field. It was raw, tribal, brutal, fanatical, respectful & humble all at once. 

It didn’t matter if it was the Saints winning 1 premiership by 1 point over 140 years or the Dogs not having won since their solitary flag in 1954. Hawthorn winning over 25% of flags since 1971 or the dominance of the Pies era winning 4 in a row or the barnstorming Demons of the late 50’s taking all before them. Port Adelaide claiming victory in 2004 – much to my chagrin – and West Coast dominating proceedings with a state team was even mildly palatable and begrudgingly accepted.  The Crows were awesome in the late 90’s and helped the National competition to take hold. This followed by the incredible 3peat of the Lions at the turn of the millennium. It was still a competition. 

There is no doubt the competition as we knew it was changing dramatically for the benefit of the national game and ensuring interstate teams had a very good chance to play finals. 

It was nevertheless a competition. A little manipulation. Some orchestrated match ups. A few inside runs. A bit of preferential treatment. Additional money here and there. Some help with extra draft choices. A mildly contrived “FIXture”. One or two decisions on the run. Ostensibly only mild influence exerted or imposed by the AFL. Not perfect but pretty close to pure and simple competition. 

Sure we had cellar dwellers. Yes we had perennial wooden spooners. Certainly there were multiple premiership winners and dominant clubs. Once again there was one constant – it was fierce, ferocious, savage COMPETITION. It didn’t matter where you were on the ladder your fans were unconditional and rabid. 

I understand the need to ensure the national  competition flourishes but I don’t buy into the obscene manipulation and involvement currently undertaken by the AFL. Sydney struggled early days and the AFL didn’t want that to happen again.  Have they gone too far the other way? Without a doubt in my opinion. 

It cannot be called a competition when your success is dependant on the influence and involvement of decisions beneficial only to your club. Ensuring teams win premierships is a disgraceful and offensive platform to run a competition. 

For the Giants to have 23 first round draft choices with at least another 3 to come this year is wildly beyond a “leg up”. Ditto the Suns. I understand individual executives have a penchant desire to accelerate success on their own watch for some head wobble but they have taken it too far this time. 

I acknowledge AFL leaders have a difficult job juggling support for new franchises and interfering with the spirit of competition. One would expect some consideration and leniency to new interstate teams, especially ones in difficult markets such as NSW & Qld. However logic and integrity also suggests that there are 2 decisions that should never happen. Firstly (in order,) is not to hand-deliver a premiership to a club and secondly, not to provide enough support for them to compete over a reasonable period of time. 

Premierships are sacrosanct and need to be kept for worthy recipients who have stood the test of time and been rewarded for exceptional efforts and performances – or you run the risk of diluting its value. 

My formula is pretty simple. Provide every club with a reasonable “unfiltered” chance of making finals. Do that often enough and you’ll win a flag here and there. Making finals is a wonderful achievement especially for a club in their 5th year. Don’t give clubs excellent chances to win premierships, give them a reasonable chance to make finals. That’s the significant difference. Teams should “win” premierships in a brutal competition not just have it as a natural next step in their existence. 

There is a high degree of “fait accompli” about recent decisions and even more so  as it relates to immediate future winners. 

Coaching Reality

Upon appointment as coach to St Kilda in 2001 I immediately set about defining the structure that I believe gives a team it’s best chance of success.
Let’s be clear on one thing, you are in the premiership business – that’s an undeniable fact.

As Club Coach/Manager I oversaw the entire football operation similar to a General Manager within any corporate business. All coaches were put on employment contracts and were seen as managers not assistant coaches. They were all given a portfolio on top of their usual duties. List Management (including recruiting & draft), Contracts (TPP), Tribunal, AFL administration, VFL Liaison etc. Each of these responsibilities were given to an “assistant coach” as part of their personal development and to ensure all decisions were in line with the agreed strategic direction of the football club. We insisted that EVERY duty or decision made that impacted football must be made by the people charged with the responsibility to deliver the success – the coaches.

Of course their normal duties also required their focus such as; player development, tactical and strategic decisioning, opposition analysis, general training drills, player performance feedback, offence & defence management, team meetings, stoppage structures, ball movement and game plan implementation, leadership group involvement etc

We knocked down all walls within the environment and had a completely “open” room policy where all managers worked from work stations giving players 100% accessibility and transparency. We had a few break out rooms for private one on one meetings, selection and planning etc as well as a “War Room” where we devised our plans, plotted against opponents, had our pre-game team meetings and conducted leadership meetings in. We had a player theatre where we conducted video analysis, game reviews and club sessions involving all players on the list.

I actually only took training about 6 times each season. Every session was devised on collective agreement of the managers and implemented by a “coach” who ran the session. We all had roles to perform during training.
The AFL became incensed that we did not have a designated football manager and that Matt “Bundy” Rendell who in their eyes was “only” an assistant coach was our AFL Football Manager. This came about because the AFL insisted that every club had a person who would liaise with them – generally the Football Manager. When they heard we didn’t have a footy manager they insisted we have one, so we appointed Bundy into that position to satisfy City Hall. They were furious. He also oversaw List Management working closely with John Beveridge on draft, recruiting etc. Tribunal was another role he performed. He is forever indebted for the learnings and experiences he gained under that structure where he developed into something more than just an assistant coach.

“Bundy” also was in charge of the opposition and strategic/tactical operations.

It is my view that there can be a significant disconnection between the current Football Manager role who performs some/most of these aforementioned duties and the agreed strategically defined charter undertaken by the coach/manager and his assistants. There is an undeniable tug of war that erupts within clubs, between the Football manager, CEO and Coach. It creates an unnecessary and unworkable environment which confuses staff and creates constraints in the agreed goals. 

Let’s remember, each has a different mandate and in many cases they conflict with each other. Broadly, CEO’s are in the revenue and brand business, Coaches are in the premiership business and Football Managers sit somewhere in the middle trying to juggle the expectations of both as well as provide the necessary information and support required to facilitate the role. It’s a mess in my opinion. Fortunately most footy managers of late only have to deal with recently retired players, or relatively inexperienced coaches so confrontation and challenging of decisions remain minimal – unfortunately results are sometimes commensurate with these structural inadequacies.

Of course there are exceptions to the rule, I am speaking generally here. 
Clearly the experience, talent and skills of ALL of the coaches needs to be significantly raised if they are to assume the responsibilities outlined in the structure we adopted from 2001-2006. You would not be able to appoint a recently retired player without some sort of coaching/manager experience.

Coaching your own team in your own right at senior level would be mandatory. Business or corporate experience would also be a valuable commodity. This would in turn mean that AFL coaches may reach 40 before they would be considered experienced and competent to perform the duty successfully. The upside is the elimination of the stabs in the dark or the dart throwing exercises recently experienced.

Whenever I talk to assistant coaches I get similar messages from them. They cite boredom, have too much time on their hands and are not engaged enough in responsibilities outside players and their development. Training services do not allow coaches to have access to players for long enough periods of time and frankly the players get bored and disinterested if their time at the club is extended. 

Perhaps clubs could look at their existing structures and implement a more rigorous and entrepreneurial regime to future appointments. They may avoid some of the dilemmas we are currently seeing and would definitely provide a more sustainable, enriching experience for coaches within a currently stale environment. We are habitual creatures and the AFL is no different. Time to be brave and reposition, relaunch some traditional structures?

Coach Model Flawed 2

Elite sporting codes overseas appoint managers. They are leaders who may not have played at a high level. They are leaders far more qualified with core components of the tasks required to be a successful sporting club, than their own playing ability.

Their experiences and skills revolve around management, leadership, strategy, communication and entrepreneurialism.

AFL coaches (largely) revolve around playing ability, no previous coaching experience, no previous management experience, assisting a club coach for varying periods of time (sometimes), and rarely if ever been employed or involved in anything outside the AFL industry.

In fact if you were drafting requirements for the credentials for your next AFL coach your criteria would be the opposite to those aforementioned AFL traits. However strangely, club leaders are seduced into appointing rookie coaches.

Within the next decade I am certain the penny will drop and clubs will start to change the structure and model of coaching moving forward.

Instead of appointing highly experienced, well credentialed football managers to support and oversee a young and inexperienced coaching panel, clubs will flip the situation on its head.

We will eventually see highly credentialed, experienced leaders managing (coaching) the club with less experienced footy managers to provide support and infrastructure to a panel of assistant coaching specialists. These assistant coaches will be career specialists who are technicians. They are astute in areas of data, information, strategy, tactics, opposition analysis, ball movement, structures, situation plays, “what-ifs”, player development, video analysis and player performance feedback, skill development, training drills and skills etc etc.

By way of example it would be like elevating Neil Balme’s or Gubby Allan’s role as football manager and appointing a leader/manager/coach (call it what you like) and that person having a team of highly credentialed, qualified technicians or assistants reporting to him and providing valuable data and information. The current club coach type (eg; Damian Hardwick, Nathan Buckley, Leon Cameron, Scott boys etc etc) would move into the specialist technician role. This would happen based on their individual skill sets, experience, areas of expertise and role enjoyment.

Many will see this as radical change, unnecessary and dangerous. My view is until we start to select people to run the football club with commensurate levels of acumen, skill and experience we will continue to get the same result.

How a board can ponder the appointment of a former elite player who has never experienced anything outside the AFL bubble is unconscionable. Just think about it; never coached his own side, never managed people, hired or fired, been a change agent, developed a culture and implemented it, executed on a devised business plan (remembering you are in the premiership business), led an organization or showed relative experience in running a 100+ staff environment? Frankly the mind boggles – it’s beyond me.

It talks more to the incompetence of the people appointing coaches than the successful candidates.